No. 3 Stanford baseball (37-14, 21-9 Pac-12) is set to compete in the Pac-12 tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. this weekend. Similar to college basketball, the winner of the tournament gets an automatic bid to the NCAA baseball tournament. This will be the first ever Pac-12 baseball tournament — and depending on the winner, it could potentially help slide another Pac-12 team into the tournament field.
The tournament will consist of two pods and will have a double-elimination format. Stanford is the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament after capturing the Pac-12 regular season title last weekend. Their side of the pod includes No. 4 Oregon (35-21, 18-12 Pac-12), No. 5 Arizona (35-21, 16-14 Pac-12) and No. 8 Arizona State (25-30, 13-17 Pac-12). In the first game of the tournament on Wednesday, Oregon and Arizona will play each other. Shortly after, Stanford and Arizona State will play.
Oregon State (41-13, 20-10 Pac-12) is the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament, and their pod includes No. 3 UCLA (35-20, 19-11 Pac-12), No. 6 Cal (28-25, 14-16 Pac-12) and No. 7 Washington (30-24, 14-16 Pac-12). In the third game of the tournament, Oregon State and Washington will play each other, while UCLA and Cal will be the fourth matchup.
In each of the pods, the winners of the two initial games will compete against each other, and the losers will face one another. The team that wins the first two games in their pod will advance to the conference semifinals, while the team that loses their first two games will be eliminated. The teams that only lose one out of their first two games will play each other, and the loser of that game will be eliminated.
Then, each conference semifinal game will match the team that won its first two games with the team that only lost one game over the first two rounds. Those teams will continue playing until one team has lost two total games in the tournament, in which case that team will be eliminated and the winning team will move on to the final.
The final will be a one game affair, and the winner will be crowned the inaugural Pac-12 tournament champion.
Stanford is riding a lot of momentum going into postseason play, having won 12 straight games and swept three straight Pac-12 series. In addition, the Cardinal have toppled some of the top teams in conference play on the road, taking two out of three games from Oregon State and UCLA earlier this season.
While the prize of an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament is no small achievement to some teams, it may not be very meaningful to Stanford. No matter what happens in the tournament, Stanford will likely host a regional and super-regional due to their regular season record. Winning the Pac-12 tournament may actually work against the Cardinal, as it will require them to go deep into their bullpen — they will have to play games for five days straight.
The extent to which Stanford head coach David Esquer will prioritize winning the tournament and how that will impact his management of the tournament pitching rotation remains to be seen. Esquer may elect to limit the innings of his starting pitchers to prevent injuries and keep them fresh for the NCAA tournament. For similar reasons, he may also choose to sit some of his key position players if he decides player freshness is more important than the tournament title.
First pitch against Arizona State is scheduled for 45 minutes after the Oregon/Arizona matchup, which will begin at 9 a.m. PT on Wednesday, May 25.